Buddy System: Yea or Nay?


In an interesting article on the New York Times' health blog, The Well, Tara Parker-Pope takes on the question of which is better for walking: a human, or a dog?

I won't be shocking anybody when I reveal that dogs were way, way better than human companions when it came to enthusiasm, distance travelled, and speed gained in walking.

Which made me think about exercise on the buddy system. I've always hated it; it took a lot for me to work out in front of Attila the first, oh, fifty times I did so, but now I've gotten addicted. Having somebody around to kick my ass on a regular basis has made all the difference in my fitness life.

What about you? What are the benefits and drawbacks to exercising with another person, or with your pooch?

Several years ago, I tried to have a walking buddy. I really tried. There were three major drawbacks to our partnership: First, she was six feet tall, plus a few inches, and I am five-two on a tall day, with platforms on. Our stride lengths didn't match at all; she'd be lollygagging while I trotted along puffing, trying to keep up.

The second problem was scheduling. It gets *hot* here in Central Texas in the summer time, and the only time we could consistently work out together was between 3:30 and 5 pm--known as The Time Of Certain Death to us natives.

The third and final problem? Although she was a very nice lady, we had nothing at all in common. She was a fashion designer and I... ... ...well, "fashion" is whatever's clean today. We had less than nothing to talk about.

As a result, we didn't work out together for very long or very consistently.

Occasionally I will take Max, my dog, for a walk. Max is enormous: half German Shepherd and half Flying Flapdoodle, he weighs in at something north of a hundred pounds. He's enthusiastic, energetic, and excellent on a leash, but he has one major fault when we're walking: he thinks of time alone with me as time when he must be Protecto-Pooch.

As a result, he gets very anxious. Although he doesn't lunge at other dogs or other people (and "leash law" here is honored more in the breach than the observance, which is another concern), he spends so much time clearing corners and watching out for threats to His Human that he's more tense at the end of a walk than he was at the beginning. It's like taking a Marine fresh from combat training for a nice stroll through some of the seedier parts of Detroit, except with more drooling.

The positives include pace: he's a fast boy, and prone to break into gallops with little or no warning, so I get good interval training. Plus, he's friendly and gorgeous and well-mannered, so we (and by "we" I mean "he") get plenty of attention and affection on our walks. Still, if I weigh his anxiety level on even a short walk against the benefits, we're better off playing Tackle The Human in the back yard.

So I mostly, like the antihero of a modern Jarmisch-esque Western, work out alone. How 'bout you?

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